Even as there have been voices advocating mandatory linking of Aadhaar to social media accounts, the Supreme Court last month refused to entertain a plea challenging a Delhi High Court order in which it had declined to direct linking of social media accounts with Aadhaar, PAN or voter ID card for weeding out fake accounts. The Delhi High Court had said that linking of accounts with social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp, with Aadhaar, PAN or any other identity document requires framing of policies or amendment in existing laws by the central government and this exercise cannot be done by the court.
Over a period of time, use of social media and its influence on communities and societies has become a center of debate more for controversies it has created (and continues to creat) through fake accounts than the good this platform has been serving to the users. The controversies on social media platform have become a global phenomenon and momentum is picking up not to allow social media to go unregulated anymore. Now, just a few days back, US President Donald Trump’s attempt at reining in social media platforms has made policymakers around the world sit up and take notice.
Basically, we are in an era where flood of new technologies and the expanded use of social media have changed the way people communicate with each other. The change encouraged free flow of communication without borders at lightening speed.
However, most of the times content of the communication has been slanderous in nature on political, social, economic and religious front. This uncontrolled flow of content on the back of new technologies and social media platform has created (and continues to create) more unrest and dividing communities than strengthening the chord of harmony in the global village.
Precisely, everybody is a player on social media platform without a captain and people, wittingly or unwittingly, become part of a campaign adversely affecting the harmony among groups, communities and societies.
The point here is not to discuss the ills brought in by the change in the way people communicate today through new technologies and expanded use of social media. But, there is an urgent need to tailor a foolproof mechanism where citizens are diverted to make use of new technologies and social media for the kind of a change which is for betterment alone.
But, who will bell the cat? The answer is simple. The government is already in driver’s seat to make its citizens to use the social media platform in a productive way, at least, which does not preach hatred, malign communities and drives socio-political unrest.
There is no second opinion that the new technologies and social media can change the communication between Government and the citizens as they contribute decisively to the transformation of public administration. The citizens would be encouraged to participate actively in public affairs. It will lead to open governance and the government would be making the citizens to utilize the time they spend on social media for productive initiatives. This would also lead to transparency of the government activities.
However, coercive measures won’t work to get the general public on board for healthy communication while using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media platforms. The initiative should be friendly in manner. Besides, it is to be done in phases and can be started from the internal public which is under direct control of the government. Internal public is that segment of public which is directly under the control of the government and are spread in all sectors of the governance.
There should be a comprehensive social media policy in place for government employees which should make their work culture more challenging and more aspirational. They should be encouraged to use social media as a knowledge sharing platform. Above all, such a policy should limit personal use of these social media sites during working hours.
Now let’s have a look at the social media activists. There is a mad race among them to ensure their posts go viral. But what is the impact of these viral posts? The first thing is that people across the globe get to know about the situation. Most of them do talk about the incident and even they comment on such posts. We may even see a debate ignited on the social network sites. But all this ‘viral theory’ loses steam after few hours. The reason is bombardment of other posts from the other innumerable players engaged on the social network platform. The posts are uploaded at lightning speed, which most of the times either makes one to lose sight or force them to ignore these posts.
We create a lot of ‘friends’, ‘followers’ and ‘likes’ through the content posted on these sites. Unfortunately, we have fallen to a trap of negativity and falsehood while being on the platform, as negative and sensational content lures the audience to check your posts. We measure the success of our posts in terms of huge audience. If we go by this theory that our posts attract huge audience on the social media sites, then we seem to be in control of our audience as it’s our discretion to allow them to be our ‘followers’ or ‘friends’. But, actually, it’s not so. It’s the audience which controls us. It’s their judgment and response to our posts which defines us as a personality on this platform.
We have become addicts like a drug addict to measure our self esteem on the basis of the comments, shares and likes we get for our activities on the social media. If we don’t get desired attention for our activities, we feel a sense of being alone or left out. And that’s exactly why social media is so appealing to everyone. It’s a simple psychological need to want to fit in and feel accepted. Wanting to feel accepted isn’t wrong, it’s how we go about it in this generation that is damaging.
So one should not be a victim of illusion of a perfect life while playing on social media with his appointed audience. You may have created an online empire where your audience worships you and shower appraisal and compliments constantly on your posts. Be sure, it’s not real. You are in a virtual world. Someone has rightly said that ‘a strong self-esteem is not destroyed by others and low self-esteem is not built by others.’
One should not be against the use of social media. The only thing is to realize its enormous power for creating impact on the society for betterment. It’s a perfect platform to transform societies in line with the contemporary world. We should not allow ourselves to get distracted from our own present and not allow ourselves to focus on other’s pasts. So, let you use social media to make a conscience effort to reach out to your genuine friends through genuine interaction. Don’t allow opinions of other people, which are mostly judgmental in nature, to dictate your own existence.
Now let me come to the breed of social media activists who take route of fake accounts and post slanderous content which creates unrest among communities and societies. The productive use of social media platform stands overshadowed by this breed that intentionally target individuals and organizations to meet their own ends. The harm posed by fake news and messages that incite lawlessness is obvious. To arrest this menace and weed out fake accounts, there is urgent need of a regulated framework that allows social media to serve its purpose without being a threat to civil society. If peddling of gross misinformation through social media platform is to be stopped, then a mix of legal provisions tailored without infringing the fundamental rights of the citizens are inevitable. The only aim should be to hold the social and other values without choking the use of social media platform.
(The views are of the author & not the institution he works for)